Amnesty International Slams Hungary’s Treatment of Refugees

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Asylum-seekers sneak under a razor-wire fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border. Hungary has militarized its border over the past year.

Amnesty International released a damning report Tuesday that examines how Hungary – under the direction of the far-right administration of Viktor Orbán – has not only grossly neglected its duty to refugees, but has actively persecuted migrants fleeing war-torn areas – primarily Syria.

The report’s introduction wastes no time laying bare the litany of offenses that the government is responsible for committing:

…over the last year the Hungarian authorities have baulked at little in their determination to keep refugees and migrants out of the country. The government’s programme of militarization, criminalization and isolation – that it touts as “Schengen 2.0” – has ushered in a set of measures which have resulted in violent push-backs at the border with Serbia, unlawful detentions inside the country and dire living conditions for those waiting at the border. While the Hungarian government has spent millions of Euros on a xenophobic advertising campaign, refugees are left to languish…The toxic rhetoric of the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, calling asylum-seekers “poison”, has trickled down to the level of local government and often permeates the context in which police and local asylum centres operate.

The report details a number of other merciless government policies directed at migrants. These include government forces violently repelling asylum seekers, failure to provide requisite information services to asylum seekers, and draconian criminal charges for unlawful entrants into the country.

These patterns of abuse are solidly outside the legal framework of the EU, and amount to a severe transgression against treaty member nation obligations.

Exactly a year ago, the world became acquainted with Hungary’s particularly harsh stance toward refugees when video emerged of border agents hurling food to desperate migrants in caged-in enclosures. Such an incredibly debasing and horrifying display is certainly beneath any self-proclaimed democracy.

But, as Nils Muiznieks helpfully delineates in a The New York Times op-ed decrying Hungary’s treatment of desperate refugees, the nation’s disregard for democratic norms is hardly new. Over the past several years, a distributing trend of anti-democratic policies and government priorities have emerged in Hungary. Under Orbán, the government has targeted journalists and interfered with the work of nonprofits. It has also dangerously meddled with the country’s independent judiciary. Indeed, if these trends continue apace, Hungary will likely look more like reactionary totalitarian government than an adherent to the European values of democracy, cooperation, and cultural liberalism.

Untold numbers of refugees are stuck at Hungary’s border, wedged between the intractable conflict of their home countries and the unwelcoming militarism of fortress-like Hungary. Amnesty International – in addition to a host of recommendations for Hungarian authorities that will likely fall on deaf ears – has called on the European Commission to hold Hungary accountable for its actions. Unfortunately, the entire continent is locked into a tense debate on the influx of refugees. Even the more asylum-friendly, such as Germany, face a growing tide of anti-immigrant politics in the guise of far-right populist parties.

Will fear for their own political futures deter sane voices in European politics from working toward a more human solution to the crisis? Time will tell. Sadly, time is something that the refugees hemmed in at the Hungarian border simply do not have.

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